By their very nature, artists don’t believe in meaninglessness; they create with a purpose and the goal of communicating that purpose to others. The same is true of writers, who understand that conveying themes is essential in literature. A worthy example of this is Ken Follet and his book World without End, which focuses on the small medieval town of Kingsbridge and its struggles to understand the overarching forces of the fourteenth century world. Follet uses an array of symbols such as the bridge, the hospital, and scarlet cloth to develop themes that reflect the changes and skepticism that are prominent in his characters’ daily lives.
One of the most important symbols in the novel is the bridge that spans the river around Kingsbridge. As it is the major means of entering and exiting the town, it is vital to local trade activity. This is especially clear when the old bridge collapses and Edmund Wooler, a prominent merchant, declares
It is hard for us mere men to know God’s intentions. But one thing we do know is that, without a bridge, this town will die. We’re already losing out to Shiring. Unless we build a new stone bridge as fast as we possibly can, Kingsbridge will soon become a small village. (183)
Here, Follet is clearly showing his readers that the existence of a bridge represents a connection to the outside world and prosperity. However, the characters become sharply divided according to their attitudes toward the rebuilding effort. Many of the traditionally powerful inhabitants (clergy and nobility) are concerned about costs and their own careers, while he guild members realize the long-term implications of such reduced income for the town as a whole. This division also highlights the growing rivalry for control between the church and the secular organization of the guild, a defining characteristic of the time period. Despite strong opposition and numerous setbacks, the people of Kingsbridge bond over the technical and political challenges of the project.
Equally significant is the role of the hospital throughout the novel. The same dingy building is used as everything from an inn to an operating room. Typically, the nuns would perform tasks such as cleaning and administering medicines, while only educated physician-monks could diagnose patients and prescribe cures. Referencing ancient texts, these men would call for senseless remedies, including bleeding, poultices, and disgusting concoctions. However, the arrival of the plague in England sends the physicians into hiding or death, while Caris Wooler and her fellow nuns apply simple, practical, and effective treatments. Their practices transform the hospital into a beacon of hope and stability for the chaotic community, which is explained...